17 January 2011. Memorial of St. Anthony, abbott
Hebrews 5: 1-10; Psalm 110; Mark 2: 18-22
St. Ignatius proposes to the one who makes the Spiritual Exercises to meditate on God continually creating us. To see that we are works of art in the making. To discover that our life is a process. And also to envision, in the wider context, that it is also the same with the world. God is patiently at work, like a potter molding clay as Jeremiah describes to us.
As change happens, there are many things that are opposing. The old wineskins are incompatible with new wine. Old clothes and a brand new patch for it are unsuited. What has been is not anymore true to what is today. Archaic ways of doing things are not anymore relevant to this day and age.
When Jesus said this proverb, He was pointing at the Gospel. The ways of the world are irreconcilable with the ways of the Lord. When Jesus is present, the world’s table manners change. If the world would group people of the same stature around the table, Jesus would gather a diverse array, including those the world would turn its back on.
The context is simple: the Pharisees and scribes criticized Jesus for having a meal at the house of Levi, a tax collector and sinner. How could a prominent Teacher and Rabbi eat with those who are incompatible with His stature? How many are not at ease when a VIP refuses the presidential table and insists in being at the sides?
To insist on fasting when served with an array of scrumptious food at a wedding is out of place. The manner of the self-righteous is such. If one has a vow of poverty, one shouldn’t eat roast pork when there is lechon. Isn’t it insulting to the poor? The poor eats whatever is on the table, roast beef or dried fish. The rich can choose; the poor can’t. The manner of the Pharisees implies that dried fish is rightfully for the poor. Jesus, the Bridegroom, insist that all, including the marginalized, deserve to partake in a five-star buffet. To be poor in spirit is concretely practiced when one eats what is served without complaining.
Of course, sin is antithetical at the table of God’s kingdom. That is why Jesus offers forgiveness to our acts of sinfulness, but welcomes the sinner at the party. This is the reason why we say before communion, “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” and “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Sinners then are the ones Jesus gather at His table.
The Gospel challenges us and introduces us to virtues we may not usually consider. It encourages us to change our perspective in ourselves: we are always in a process towards becoming as God wants us to be. It asks us to develop an attitude of openness to change. It insists on the reality of goodbyes and letting go. Flexibility and adaptability are not only values of survival and evolution, they are also virtues articulated in Scriptures.
On the contrary, rigidity and a resistance to change are inharmonious with the ways of the Lord who continually creates. Well, psychology has it that these are also issues of being stuck. It is recommended that those who are, should make a trip to the psychiatric table.
Therefore, beware of the rigid! They can make their psycho-emotional difficulty into a virtue. Understandable: the old is always safe; plunging into change is hazardous and risky. But if you are at the brink of a new life, do not be disheartened by them. Remember, Jesus has a famous phrase for them: “Woe to you, Pharisees!”